Two days before Paul McCartney’s performance at this Hard Rock Cafe sponsored weekend of shows, The Guardian ran an article remarking that the relatively poor ticket sales for the event could be a sign of the end of the stadium rock show. (Un)fortunately one look at the steady stream of people entering Hyde Park on this particular sunny Sunday afternoon removes any sense of authenticity from the paper’s claims, it may be surprising that the event is not completely sold out (that is if it isn’t actually sold out) but with the sheer amount of people here, many of whom load up on merchandise from the on-site makeshift Hard Rock Cafe, it seems unlikely that the event won’t still turn a tidy profit. Presumably the article chose to focus on McCartney in particular for the poetic significance – The Beatles are generally seen to have invented the stadium rock show with their 1965 show at New York’s Shea Stadium, and so a not quite sold out McCartney show marking its demise does have an almost pleasing symmetry behind it. Of course there’s also the fact that one of McCartney’s rare shows is bound to be popular as the music he created in The Beatles and much of his subsequent output are practically ingrained in the British DNA , even if you’re not a fan it’s still likely that you could join in a conversation about their work – like the weather and the fortunes of our national football teams it’s a universal subject of conversation.
Throughout the day the weather and football make their own demands on the crowd’s attention with Elvis Costello’s mid-afternoon set competing both with the baking sunshine and England’s woeful performance against Germany in the World Cup. Costello himself doesn’t do much to help his chances of being heard over the football supporters’ roars, choosing to neglect his more well-known numbers in favour of a set of enthusiastic but samey country rock numbers and covers (his combination of black suit and white pork-pie hat is quite fetching though). In fact the majority of the supporting performances on the main stage are at best functional, being home to seasoned middle of the road acts like Crowded House and Crosby, Stills and Nash playing pleasantly uninspiring tried and tested sets or out of place upstarts like Joshua Radin. More interesting things seem to be going on on the smaller stages during the day, particularly during The Urban Voodoo Music Machine’s amusing set, where the blues rock group make up for their fairly unexceptional music by bringing on scantily clad girls to play tuba and percussion swelling their already excessive amount of band members. However, despite the military-style precision in which the stage crews work, venturing to the other stages does carry some risks thanks to the general lack of information available on site, it’s unclear what you’re going to end up seeing.
But essentially all this is merely meaningless bit of additional icing on the cake, the crowd are here to see to see Paul and a little after 7:30 (surprisingly close to the advertised stage time) that’s what they get as he and his band wander onto the stage and launch into Jet – the first fan favourite in a set stuffed full of them – with the motion controlled lighting rigs attempting to join in on the number with their own wobbly sort of dance. This is then followed by All My Loving, the first of the night’s many Beatles numbers and it’s during this that the novelty starts to wear off – it gets harder and harder to avoid the question that whether it was worth paying a fairly extortionate price to squint at a man and his talented, but fairly anonymous face in the distance, even if that man is a genuine living legend, and frankly the small man on stage, soberly dressed in black suit and pink shirt could really be anyone – if it wasn’t for the video screens the majority of people here wouldn’t be any the wiser. The fact that the video backdrop relies on footage from The Beatles Rock Band on occasion does raise the unfortunate feeling that a better, and cheaper, time could be had at home by buying a copy of the game and some instruments and inviting a group of friends round.
It’s a shame that so many children in the crowd are probably being introduced to rock gigs with this show as although the tightly packed, sweaty, shove-y crowds, held aloft mobiles and cameras, overpriced drinks and poor views are not at all unique, rock gigs are rarely as soulless as this. It many ways it is fitting that the show is sponsored by the Hard Rock Cafe as like their burgers, the atmosphere at the event is fairly uninspiring but given a slight sense of prestige thanks to a connection with classic rock and roll. Songs such as Eleanor Rigby and A Day in the Life will always be classics, but here stripped of context and subtlety they lose a bit of their shine (there is something incredibly, ironically strange about hearing thousands of people jubilantly sing along en masse to Rigby’s sad tale of loneliness and disconnection).
However, about half way through the set McCartney’s sheer charm and hard-working style start to work (it’s quite amazing to think that a man in his late sixties could perform so energetically for more than two hours when most younger headline acts don’t bother to play for that long). Although he later starts to jeopardise this goodwill by introducing some numbers in a horrific cod-Jamaican accent (considering the fact that he also starts the night’s first encore draped in a Union Jack flag it’s fortunate that he hasn’t faced Morrissey-esque accusations of racism), this sense of discomfort disappears as long as he’s playing, particularly so during the section late in the set where he leaps to a garishly painted, old upright piano at the front of the stage for rousing versions of Hey Jude and Lady Madonna, with the resulting sing-along from the crowd giving the event the air of the world’s largest cockney knees-up. And the extravagant touches such as a fireworks display during Live and Let Die and confetti cannons to close the show add a nice playful touch, and give the many audience members who can’t see a thing on the stage something to look at (accompanying Helter Skelter with video footage taken from a roller coaster seems like a bit of a cock-up though).
Hopefully in the future The Guardian will be proven right and McCartney will start to play indoor theatre and arena shows rather than such bloated affairs. It seems unlikely, but both he and his fans deserve much better than what can be offered in this environment.